Wednesday, December 30, 2009

German statice (limonium tataricum) is not the most talked about perennial in the garden. It isn't the tallest and it certainly isn't the showiest, yet it brings forth a small, white fountain of flowers in midsummer. These dry, either before or after picking, into a burst of little white stars that are beautiful, but next to impossible to use for a bouquet or in an arrangement because they are so tough and springy. When put into vases, they topple out. In baskets, they snag on any passing person, pet or dust cloth and shed their brittle little white flowers all over the floor.

My 2009 German statice crop consisted of four large fountain-shaped stalks, enough for me to do some experimenting. Instead of leaving them whole, I broke them up into small, user-friendly parts and found that--voila--they were just the thing for our Christmas tree. I tucked the small sprigs into the ends of branches, places not quite sturdy enough to carry the weight of an ornament. The statice added a wonderful airy quality to the Fraser's famous two-toned needles, but even more important for me was that it brought the garden into the house during one of the snowiest Decembers we have ever had. Not all the flowers grown last summer are out there under the drifts. Some are inside, bringing delight (occasionally falling off from the tree, but then, what else are tree skirts for?) and giving us something to talk about, after all.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Each year, the digging and drying and storing of bulbs is a huge autumn job for me. Each year I look for ways to make it easier. This year I decided that spreading the bulbs out in the back of my trusty Ford Ranger and leaving them there to dry would be a great thing. After an October when it rained nearly every day, I rushed to dig the bulbs as soon as the ground dried just a little. (It had not dried a lot, as you can see from my shovel handle.) I drove the pickup down to the garden, dug bulbs by the wheel barrow full, pushed load after load to the truck and set them in there in groups so as to keep the dahlias separate from the cannas from the callas from the glads, etc. Every clump of bulbs weighed as much as a bowling ball. They were going to require considerable drying, and the back of the truck seemed just the place. When I finished, I drove the truck into the shed, pleased that I wouldn't have to unload the bulbs to dry on newspapers on the floor. I planned to leave them in the truck for a couple of weeks. At least.

Two days later, my husband wanted to use the truck. He did not see the humor in driving down the road with a bunch of muddy bulbs on board. I tried to persuade him that driving down the road at high speed would be great for drying the bulbs, but still no sale. The bad news: I had to unload all of the bulbs. The good news: he helped me. He even cut and disposed of the remaining stems. He helped me haul all of the boxes into the garage for unloading. The whole job took about a half an hour instead of half a day. And that is how this year I actually found an easier way of dealing with bulbs in autumn. I recommend it.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Safe from the backhoe's claw, an apple tree prevails. A Haralson, planted earlier this summer (and still wearing its hang tag, foreground,) has withstood ravenous deer, too--only by the liberal and frequent application of Liquid Fence. The tree will spend its life, which we hope will be long and fruitful, looking out on Lake Superior and basking in a climate heaven sent for apples. Though winters can be long and harsh in Zone 3, the lake sustains a micro climate that agrees with certain plants, especially apples. Superior's South Shore is ringed with abandoned orchards on long-since absented farm sites, and each year the unpruned and sometimes broken-down trees still hang heavy with disease/pest free fruit. Deer feast on them. Unfortunately, deer cannot tell the difference between abandoned orchards and producing orchards--hence the need for repellents.

We planted this tree not out of the need to store enough apples for a whole winter the way people did when the area was settled in the early 1900s, but mostly because we want to see if we can keep it going--and some apples would be nice, too. Testing oneself against the elements is one of humankind's oldest passions. No matter how many generations pass, we seem to need to keep challenging ourselves to see if we can eventually control nature. We keep reading the score as Nature 1, Humans 0+/-. Maybe some year soon we will learn that the world is not a contest--because there is really only one team. An apple tree laden ripe, red/green fruit because of our efforts--or in spite of them--is the living proof.

Friday, October 30, 2009

So much to do in this year's garden, yet already time to look ahead to next year's garden. Garden years link our lives into a bracelet of growth and change. Even if our garden consists solely of annuals, that changing of soil in the containers and remembering what we planted last year, what worked and what didn't, links our years into a chain of gardening experience that transforms our beauty-starved lives into beauty-filled ones. I doubt there is a gardener emptying out flower pots this fall who isn't already thinking about what might be done with them next year--how to make them prettier, more bloom filled, less expensive, more unique--or maybe more well behaved.

This year I under planted my three potted rose trees with American ivy sprigs in May. By July, the ivy had draped itself gracefully down the sides of the pots, but by August it was covering the pots (and the deck) like a carpet, completely annihilating the plants in nearby smaller pots. And yes, I could have/should have/would have pinched it back and kept it under control, but I was gone a lot and was content to let it thrive. As I moved the roses out of their clay pots and into plastic pails to store in the garage for the winter (I move them so that the clay pots don't break during the Minnesota -30 nights that freeze even things in our attached garage), I realized that the ivy roots were really stealing nutrients from my roses, and so I'm already planning not to put them back there next summer. Maybe some impatiens. Or maybe I'll just let the roses be themselves. But that is next year.

Next year I will transform this pile of rubble that used to be the floor in our cabin into a garden pathway or wall. Next year I will get these newly purchased shrubs set in their proper place. For now, I will set them in the ground in their pots and hope for the best--our landscaping, unfortunately, isn't ready for them yet. Gardening does not always fall into a neat order. Sometimes it is like a bracelet that lies in a pile in the corner of the jewelry box--tangled, but waiting to be picked up and worn, to be clasped around our wrists and tickle our hands with its many charms. Just so, we are linked to the earth--one year at a time.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Destruction and construction. Built on the same root word, the two words have such different connotations. Destruction always makes me think of a child pounding a precious glass vase into a million pieces with a toy hammer--or, in the extreme, of bombing that destroys whole cities and lives. Construction has all of the positive attachments: new buildings, new ideas, creativity. When construction grows out of destruction, do we have "restruction"? Recycling, I suppose, is the right word--no root word connection, sorry.

In the destruction of our old cabin, whose walls were begging to divorce themselves from their foundation, the seeds of the construction of next summer's garden pathways were sown. Jule, the expert operator of the big backhoe that accomplished the demolition, broke up the old concrete slab into user-friendly pieces so that I can create some paths when we begin landscaping. He picked up several of the larger pieces with the giant machine's claws, then set them down in the approximate place I want the path to go. Others were piled nearby for easy access.

As my heart sorrows at destruction, it is cheered by the simple act of recycling--no landfill for my former floor! Next spring I will face the challenge of construction. And I will, no doubt, be wishing I had my own backhoe.

Monday, October 5, 2009

The days of daisies are coming to an end. Black eyed Susans are not really daisies, I guess, but they are fresh faces in the garden in late summer. Mine are already done blooming and only the black stems and cones are standing, spreading seeds all over the garden. By summer of 2010, I will be chiding myself for having let those seeds spread. Ah yes, we are moving into a decade that will be easier to talk about--it seems easier to say "twenty-ten" than "two thousand nine" Anyway, no matter what the year, people delight in daisies. They aren't the most perfect flower in the garden, as evidenced by the shrivelled petals on some of these, or the way some petals lift up and some hang down. It is their simplicity, I suppose, that we like, just as famous rosarians often favor the single rose over the most heavily petalled hybrid tea. A bright, cheery color doesn't hurt, either. Even plain white daisies have a happy yellow-green center which always seem to be smiling back at us. The profusion in which daisies bloom shouts that they are happy to be alive. Well, aren't we all? We just need to show it. Though the days of daisies are coming to an end, why not smile at someone today?

Thursday, October 1, 2009

My garden has been neglected. Look at my trowel. That's not fresh garden soil on it--it's month-old (at least) soil. I have been away and the forces of weeds and weather have been at work. It is probably too late now for this trusty tool to do much good.

While I have been away, woodpeckers have decided that my house is their house. They think of it as a big tree in a little woods and love it because instead of those pesky round surfaces, it has nice flat ones that are easy to maneuver. Being cedar, it is softer than an oak tree. Because it is made up of hundreds of pieces of siding and trim, it has hundreds of places for bugs to hide, making for hundreds of places for woodpeckers to go for dinner--sort of a franchise row for the pecking set.

We have done the recommended woodpecker control--shiny, moving things dangling from the eaves; no more suet in the feeders; new caulk. Woodpeckers, however, don't give up. When the shiny things blow down--and sometimes even when they don't--woodpeckers return. A small downy woodpecker is the most persistent. Flag's barking does nothing to deter him because the downy is up so high he knows no dog can bother him (though she can spring at least five feet off the ground). That is why yesterday, in order to scare this little tyrant away, when I could see nothing else at hand, I picked up my long-unused trowel and flung it at the house. I had the fleeting thought that I should be careful not to break a window, but I needn't have worried. I heard the metal hit the cement block foundation and immediately knew that I still throw "like a girl." Why is it that this is the only part of me that doesn't age? In any case, the woodpecker flew away--and so, though many gardening chores remain undone, I celebrate the revelation that it's never too late to throw in the trowel.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Hardy Hibiscus

Floppy as Scarlett O'Hara's favorite hat
and almost as large as her favorite hoop skirt,
a color too bright for polite society
but not for hummingbirds
or bees--
or me.

Petals like paper
a ball gown's pleats and ruffles
dance away summer.

Memory of a three-inch pot
with a five-inch flower,
hope of hot pink amazement yet to come.

Friday, September 11, 2009

When a dog needs shade, sometimes a low-growing arbor vitae has to do, even though a spreading chestnut tree might be preferred. Flag's favorite hideout on the dog days of summer, which we haven't actually had too many of this year, is this unpruned cone-shaped shrub I've been trying (with very little success) to make into a truncated, four-sided shrub. One reason she likes it is because robins and other unsuspecting birds nest near the top, and so when she isn't posing for her portrait she can be jumping up to try and find them. The docile looking creature in this photo has taken all of the low branches off from another arbor vitae, and broken a few branches on another. This shrub has managed to stay intact, perhaps because Flag doesn't want to destroy this one little patch of shade. Or maybe she has seen something in that crystal ball in front her that I have not.

Summer days in the garden are numbered. Flag is glad about this. I suspect the wilting foxtail lilies are glad about this. I'm not so glad. I think I'm already anticipating what must be the "people days" of winter. I will be suffering from the cold and Flag will be totally oblivious to it, racing all over the yard in her mostly-white camo. She will jump from the snow-covered ground up into this same shrub to see if some winter bird might be hiding there to keep out of the cold. Summer. Winter. It's all the same to the arbor vitae. And if I never get it pruned, it can be called a "spreading arbor vitae". Hmmm. Not quite as melodic as Longfellow--but it works for Flag.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Remember those magic bulbs from way last spring? Well, here they are again, all grown up. I planted some in a flower bed and some in a pot (with asparagus fern), and both groups are doing well. Maybe one of you will recognize this plant now after seeing the shape of the leaves and the unusual spotted stem. If not, I'll just go on calling them magic plants and enjoying their tropical, palm tree look. Their real magic may be not their ability to send out a flower before the leaves, but to make themselves so much at home this cool Minnesota summer. One frosty night and the magic will be stowed away with the other bulbs, except that when I put these away I'm not so much a gardener as a magician packing in rabbit and silk handkerchieves I will pull out next March as flowers. Perhaps they would prefer to winter in a top hat?

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

What the world needs is a scratch-and-sniff photo option. Imagine this tomato picture in the dead of winter when only your houseplants and a one dollar bill show you any green love. You might be killing time on a January day by organizing boxes of old pictures and you come to this one, run your fingernail across the fuzzy stem, or even a leaf and voila! Instant August! The first cookbook to come up with aromatic photos would be a sure bestseller because cooks would know right away whether or not a new recipe had possibilities.

Until scratch-and-sniff photos come to be, however, we settle for this one. While the great globe of gladness that is a tomato has a nice aroma of its own, it is the leaves and stems that really say "tomato" from day one on. Each leaf has a complex design of deep veins, a pleasingly lobed shape, and so many tiny little hairs. The stems are tough, fibrous--and hairy. Then we have the tomato itself: smooth, round--hairless--and not as aromatic as its vine. With the tomato, however, smell gives way to taste (and looks). Fruit of the vine, sweet summer wine, tomato mine. Maybe what the world really needs is a scratch-and-taste photo option?

Friday, September 4, 2009

Garden Party List

Wash the white chairs coated with summer's dust
and the table top perched on an old martin house
like a porkpie hat
spread on a table cloth carefully crocheted by ancient fingers
pick roses and heavy-petalled dahlias
arrange them in a cut glass vase
load trays with old rose-patterned china
take the starched linen napkins from the closet
polish the silver coffee spoons
pile up parfaits of fresh raspberries and cream
in tall Carnival Glass goblets
knead dark cherries into buttermilk scones
stow strong coffee in vacuum pots
place cream in a pitcher that doesn't match the plates,
which don't match the cups and saucers,
except that someone has painted roses on them all
in England
a thousand moons ago
fill a crystal compote with the black currant preserves
you made in July
set butter on ice in the old pressed glass butter saver
cut up fresh melons and adorn with strawberries you leave the green caps on
because that simple act makes the red look redder and the cantaloupe look more pink--
carry trays to the garden
being careful not to trip on the bumpy lawn
where earthworms work at night
feel the shadow of the crow soaring above
smell the fresh cut grass and flowers' sweet scents
see the ripe tomato that begs picking
listen to the blue jay's call
set the table
pour some wine
savor sweet cream when your fingertip slips into the dessert
bring in the women with their broad-brimmed hats
set them among the nodding climbers and let their sandaled toes touch
the pergola's Fairy rose foothills
surround them with cleomes in every shade
soak them with warm sun
temper with shadows and a cool breeze
delight in their laughter that ripples out across the lawn
like sun on a blue lake,
flowers among flowers.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Marking Time

She ties strings
saved from
flour sacks
and sugar sacks
and feed sacks
to bent nails
on the porch fascia
each May
around the oldest boy's birthday.
Evenly spaced
neatly tied
ends clipped,
the strings wait--
a harp
for the song
blue morning glories
will strum
accompanied by a yellow sun
and soft September breeze.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Last Day of August

It takes guts to go to the garden
in the autumn when day lilies sprawl,
when orange rose hips harden
and hollyhocks brown,
when crab grass covers it all.

Cleomes tower above me
crowding out those who are weak,
scratching with glee,
tall as young trees,
they challenge this gardener meek.

I dread the Siberian iris,
where mice are now making their nests,
no pastoral bliss
has a chance to exist--
more likely is cardiac arrest.

Defending their hive, wasps
get annoyed at my lightest footfall,
they chase me and dive
while I run for the house
like Favre carrying the football.

Yet I screw up my courage each day
and off to the garden I go
for fall's on its way
and soon housebound I'll be--
wanting danger so much more than snow.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

This is the year I was going to get all of the Rudbeckia 'Goldsturm' out of my garden except for the single row on the east side. Well, well. Another success story.

I was warned not to let this sunny intruder stage a takeover, and yet I did. All spring, I dug out wheelbarrow loads of it and gave it away to everyone who drove in the yard. All summer, what remained of it was just another shade of green among the peonies, between the irises, next to the lilies. Now, in late August, it shows its true color--and what a color it is. The color of the August sun. Of ripe corn. Of tasty squash. A foreshadowing of turning leaves.

Common old Rudbeckia 'Goldsturm'--so eager to please that it just can't help itself. It sings the end of summer, but not a lullaby. This is blaring jazz, all trumpets and brass. Soon I will begin digging it out of the garden again--but not all of it. Never all of it.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Drupe. And droop. Anyone might think these two words that sound the same would come from the same root, right? But, of course, they don't. "Droop" comes from an Old Norse verb meaning "to hover" or "to hang the head for sorrow" (OED), while "drupe" comes from the Latin for "overripe olive". Both words, however, describe American spikenard, aka Aralia racemosa, aka That-big-wild-plant-I-didn't-know-the-name-of-for-several-years. Spikenard epitomizes another "d" word, too: drape. Its broad leaves, three together, drift beautifully on the slightest breeze. In early summer, the flower heads nodded primly with a practiced droop, and now they have turned to drupes--clusters of tiny berries in colors from khaki to burgundy to near black.

Spikenard grows along the edges of rich woodlands and is a cousin to ginseng, the mysterious plant I've heard tales about since I was little (my father gathered it in the woods of western Wisconsin and sold it to earn some cash during the 1930s Depression) yet have never seen except in cultivated plots. A ginseng collector walked all through our woods but didn't find any, and I take him at his word, yet I am always on the lookout for it, basing my search on Internet photos of the plant, which as you may know from trying to identify plants from photos, is no easy task with no sure-fire solution.

I only happened on the identity of Aralia racemosa because I happened to be reading Lynn Steiner's Landscaping with Native Plants of Wisconsin and voila! There it was--and her photo looked exactly like the plants growing along our driveway. So now I have the solution to one more mystery of the woods around me. Ginseng remains my quest. I wonder if ginseng droops? Or has drupes? Or drapes? All I know is that, like each of these words, it is valuable for its root (ha...) which is probably why none is growing wild on my property. Aralia racemosa, on the otherhand, which has no market value whatsoever, is invaluable because it is big and beautiful and comes up faithfully each year with no help at all from me. And it allows me to use the words "droop", "drape" and "drupe" which are fun to say. Nothing else is really needed.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Two Deer Crossing the Lawn

No sound of footsteps--
no telltale prints
in the grass
no evidence
of rose filled rumens
no picture snapped
blurry and faraway
no touch of amber coat
or wet black nose--
nothing remains
of two golden gods
sleek and assured
who ambled across the
morning's dewy green velvet
except the snapshot I store
of when they looked up
and saw that they were not alone
in Eden
after all.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Did you ever notice how nature reuses design ideas in the plant and animal worlds? Like making the center of this cosmos look so much like a bumble bee--or is it a yellow jacket? This has been a good summer for bees (and wasps) in my garden, and just now they seem exceptionally busy. So far I have managed to avoid stings, but I suppose one day soon I will happen onto a nest and enrage these otherwise peaceful creatures. If this has never happened to you, you might not be aware that yellow jackets build ground nests as autumn approaches. Should you see a small hole which you might take for the work of a mole, it probably was at one time, but now it may well be inhabited by yellow jackets. Avoid these holes at all costs. Chances are that the wasps won't bother you if you don't bother them. I made the mistake of running over one of these small holes with the lawn mower a couple of summers back, which is how I learned just how angry yellow jackets can get. They stung me several times, then followed me as I ran to the house (screaming) and then followed me inside to sting me some more. Despite this kind of way-too-close encounter with apian friends, I continue to marvel at the sight of bees--and even wasps--in the garden--especially the stingless variety in the center of the cosmos.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Lady's Mantle is the very definition of a "toothed" leaf, isn't it? The edges look like the saw blade on the old hand saw I use for wood projects out in the garage (I haven't graduated to power tools), so maybe the term should be "saw toothed" instead of just "toothed", but anyway, they are distinctive and lovely. I read somewhere that Lady's Mantle makes a good underplanting for rose bushes, and so I have been dividing mine each year and transplanting them under the large shrub roses and between the smaller ones, where I sometimes think they might be trying to stage a coup. Nevertheless, Lady's Mantle makes a nice companion for the roses, both species ruffled and round, exuberant and dewy-eyed. The misty, yellow flowers work well in rose bouquets, too, giving a vintage, cottage garden look. The flowers, of course, eventually turn to brown and are less appealing, but can be cut back so that they rebloom to work well with late summer flowers like Brown-Eyed Susans and purple asters.

The leaves of Lady's Mantle, however, are the main attraction for me. This close-up photo shows the Lady's Mantle's teeth and the sought-after dew drops, but also some brown spots on the leaves. Unlike a glamour shot, this amateur photo shows a lady's face just as it is, age spots and all. We can choose to look at the spots (and perhaps to eradicate their cause), or to focus on the graceful shape of the leaf, the way it works together with its sisters to form a pleasing mound in countless shades of green. We can look at the deep veins that feed it and see the symmetry of its construction and the genius of its design. Simple and unassuming, Lady's Mantle does not seem to mind being seen without retouching, or being compared to an old saw blade. It just keeps on growing, keeps on giving. I just keep on transplanting. If my blog disappears one day, you may assume that the Lady's Mantle coup has at last been totally successful.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Henry James once said that his two favorite words were "summer day"--such a succinct a thought for someone not known for his brevity. A beautiful summer day seems such an unearned pleasure, a gift of which we are not worthy, something almost too good to be true--and yet, there we are, breathing in the scent of roses and tasting the sweet fruits. There are, of course, also the not-so-sweet fruits, like the black currant, a fruit I had never heard of until we traveled to England and found black currant preserves everywhere we went. Tart, tangy and rich in color, black currant preserves became a must-have for every "full English breakfast". When I came home and was unable to find this new delicacy anywhere, I ordered three black currant bushes from a nursery. They arrived, three little twigs with bare roots. My hopes fell, but I planted the little "bushes". They surprised me by branching out within weeks and forming compact shrubs not quite two feet high. The first year a handful of currants appeared. By the next year, the branches filled with the black fruit. The three bushes now produce enough for five or six jars of jam each year--enough to satisfy the Anglophile in me, and to remind me, even on hot, humid, terrible days that a summer day is a special pleasure, to be dreamed of in January, longed for in February and lusted after in March. Henry James may have been eating black currant preserves on a bleak midwinter day when he penned his famous quote. Just a guess.

Monday, August 3, 2009

In all seasons, things go to seed, both plant and animal. The connotation is usually unflattering, as in calling something "seedy", yet what a sad world we would live in were it not for the going to seed of things--asparagus, for example. Few plants are more glorious in their waning days than tall wispy wands of asparagus all covered with green droplets, each one of which, under the right conditions, could become a new asparagus plant. Alas, the conditions are never right for all of them. Some blow off to become the wild asparagus growing on the roadside. Some feed sparrows. Some fall to the ground and do not germinate. Some germinate and reappear as tiny wispy strands--and are promptly uprooted by greedy weeding hands. Some are uprooted by mistake, when their fragile roots get mixed up with the wrong kind of friends and they are all busted together, despite the gardener's best attempt to hold the baby asparagus on the right path.

Then, too, there is the grape vine which would happily suffocate the whole patch in order to produce its own seeds inside of drupes of indigo fruit. If grape leaves were not so beautiful, if their vines were not so gorgeous, if their healthy profusion were not so elegant, I would be at constant war with grape vines and their seeds, but I am not. A skirmish here and there, yes, but not an all out battle. Like these wonderful plants, some of my gardening energy is now going to seed. Time for a truce--and a new connotation for the word "seedy".

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Headline yesterday: Tanning Beds are as Bad as Arsenic. Headline in my garden today: Natural Sun Not Always a Boon to Plants.

Every gardening book tells its reader about light changes in the garden. Remove a tree from a shade garden and you have a sunny garden. We removed two box elder trees last summer, which turned a little wild garden of mine into something more like "little garden on the prairie". This big-leaf hosta, so fibrous and hardy, has tried valiantly to look into the sun without benefit of sunglasses, but it is now clear that the result is something akin to its living in a tanning bed. Like all of us who like to run away from our problems, this one went on a trip to a new and shadier garden where it will suffer through this unsightly phase until frost intervenes. Next spring all blemishes will be forgotten. Headline, May, 2010: Travel--It's Not Just for People Anymore.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Yesterday, Montgomery the Snowman found himself sitting on a truckload of plants. It had been a cool summer, but even in Minnesota it wasn't really cool enough for a snowman. Nevertheless, Montgomery made the most of it. He smiled for the camera, managed to avoid a fight with Flag, the resident spaniel, and shook his little belly like the proverbial bowl full of jelly. He noted that his favorite flower is the daisy shining like a star over his head. The sunburned hostas, not so much--but singlehandedly, he gave a much needed chill to the heat-stressed traveling plants. By the time they found their way to my daughter's garden an hour later, they were much revived. Montgomery says that if you can't find a snowman for your garden, you'll have to settle for chilling down any plants you move with a shower of cool water. He recommends a snowman, however, because after yesterday he decided that summer isn't as bad as everyone told him it would be.

Montgomery in the Garden

A snowman sat
(most snowmen can't...)
in the back of a truck,
a man of leisure among transplants.

All dressed in camo he did go:
in leaflike green
and purest white
to romp in daisies all unseen.

He offered chill
that hot, hot day--
the roses danced--
impatiens shrunk away.

His happy smile
did not once wane.
Who said summer
is the snowman's bane?

Friday, July 24, 2009

Filipendula, Queen of the Prairie, is now turning from a tall, pink plume to a spare, golden sceptre. Who will be next in the succession of garden royalty? Maybe Monarda didyma, commonly known as Bee Balm (much less heraldic). This monarda moved with me from our old house to our new house. It survived having been mistaken for a weed and whacked to the ground by my husband the year we got our first gas-powered brush cutter. It has survived wet summers when it dropped nearly every leave from powdery mildew. It has survived dry summers when I failed to water it adequately. Monarda is considered by most to be quite common, maybe even on the verge of being a weed, but there is something regal in the delicate crown-like bloom it shows for so many weeks in mid-summer. For now, let's just call it monarcha.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Why do we go to see fireworks every year on the Fourth of July? Because we love the colors? Because there is something magical about a man-made version of shooting stars? Because we have to have something to do for excitement and on that day fireworks are IT? Each year as I watch fireworks, I wonder what it is that draws people to them. They are, I suppose, a form of exhibition art. They are, like theater, a performance never to be repeated in exactly the same way. They spark excitement. Most important, however, may be the fact that their impermanence makes us seek them while we can.

So it is with cyperus papyrus King Tut. An annual grass I have planted in a pot on my deck, it is a one-season affair. If I want one next year I'll have to buy a new one (or figure out how to winter this one over until spring). Yet I had to have one this year, after seeing them last year at Sargent's Garden Center in Rochester. Why did I have to have it? Because I love the color (the fresh green reminds me of bamboo). Because there is something magical about a plant that shoots out on the end like fireworks. And because I have to have some plants that just add excitement to the pot arrangement on the deck, and this year this one is IT. It is its impermanence, though, that tugs at me. Like a child at the fireworks, I don't want this plant to end. And so I seek it while I can.

Friday, July 10, 2009

After my tangle with the raspberry canes a month ago, I have finally been able to enjoy the literal fruits of my labor. Because we are having quite a dry summer, the berries are not particularly large--except near the compost pile, where they are double the size of the berries in the rest of the patch. If that doesn't make even the casual observer believe in the value of compost and/or mulch (I have grass clippings piled up about a foot deep on the compost side of the row) I don't know what does. It makes me think that I'm going to do a better job of mulching and feeding these berries now that I've made some kind of order in the patch.

A berry patch is a step-by-step process. I couldn't mulch until I had weeded. I couldn't weed until I--what? Couldn't stand it anymore? Perhaps. Anyway, I think it is so hard, sometimes, to be satisfied with each single step. We want to get to the finish line in one giant leap, instead of in a thousand small steps. But if we leaped, it wouldn't be a race. It would be a jumping event. A race is run, step by tortured step. I can berate myself for having piled compost in the woods when I could have been dumping it in the raspberry patch, or I can take another step and plan to do better in the future. If I really want to get in shape, I can move the piles of leaves from the woods to the raspberry patch. Maybe I will. Have truck, will muck. Let's hope I don't find any salamanders lurking underneath. If I do, I may run a different kind of race.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Most people see my perennial garden from the road as they are driving by. For it to catch their eye, it should have big splashes of color. As I work amid the towering pink filipendula, I imagine that it does, that it looks as stunning from the road as it does from up close. Wrong. I am always surprised, when I think the garden is in full bloom, to view it from the road, a couple of hundred feet away, and see that it doesn't look like very much at all. Perhaps that is why it is good to remember that no matter which face your garden turns to the world, it is truly seen the most by its gardener, who should plan it for his or her own satisfaction, for the deep gifts it will impart, for the store of knowledge it will constantly unpack. As we toil in the garden, we see the detail that drive-by gardeners see only as a blur. Still, I see bigger color splashes in my garden's future; they give me an excuse to let plants spread. A garden is for sharing, even if only for a moment.

Monday, July 6, 2009

I may never get to making a botanical inventory of my garden, much less my whole property, which includes fifteen acres of woods with some of the most gorgeous (to me) plants on the face of the earth, but it occurred to me the other day that I could make a photographic inventory of my clematises so that I might finally be able to find out what their names are by comparing my photos to online photos. Focusing on a single bloom from a plant renowned for having so many blooms gives that flower such dignity. I could almost feel this one's pride as I took its picture.

This clematis was planted by the south side of our house when we moved in. It had no name tag attached. The first spring it was a tall tangle of brown that I didn't know what to do with, never having had a clematis before. I was advised to cut back some of the brown and to leave some so that I would be able to tell if it bloomed on old wood or new. I did as directed, but it was here that the directions broke down, because as I got busy with the rest of the gardens I neglected to watch for where the plant bloomed. Over the years, it has been a largely neglected child, always eager and green, but seldom blooming. Last fall I decided to give it new hope: I cut it to the ground. This summer it has rewarded me with a nice (not immense, you understand) array of flowers. I think we may have come to an understanding.

Cutting in the fall is a routine I understand. Cutting back partially is not. So whether or not I ever learn the names of my six clematises, I now know I have at least three that love being cut back along with the peonies and Siberian irises. Some inventories have numbers. Some have names. Some are just a dream--like my botanical inventory dream. But they all start with a single plant.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

The garden wishes you a Happy Fourth of July (even if the blue is a little on the pale side).

Friday, July 3, 2009

Waiting for Cleome

Afraid to turn the soil
afraid to plant
afraid to miss that first small fleur de lis
you watch
you wait
you give up.

you see a cluster of green
where you know the
seeds from one cleome fell
when the November cold
cracked the pod
(like the hose you forgot to put away)
and dropped the seeds--
into a savings account
in your name.

The interest far exceeds
Wall Street numbers--
it could be a Ponzi scheme you think--
but then you cease to think
at all
as you watch
the seedlings
grow up
taller than your waist
and fill the garden with their spidery arms,
that legions of cleomes will
strangle your roses.
Gardener's Arachnophobia.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Someone lives in this house, I don't know who. Someone has chewed on the hole that used to admit only wrens, I don't know how. Someone is making squeaking noises in this house, I don't know why. I know, however, that Someone inside is living a life I can never inhabit. I know that whomever it is scares my dog when she goes too close (oh, the power of the unknown!) I know that I don't go too close, either, because it might be mice--or chipmunks--that could stream out and run up my leg. Yikes! I keep my distance. I let the woodland plants surround the property and the grapevines deliver a tasty snack. I watch the shadows fall, the sun glance in, the breeze twist leaves into lazy ticklers. Someone lives in this house. Someone who finds my garden a welcoming place. I forgive the chewing. Almost.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Just when the red poppies were blooming, I finally took time to prune a trumpet vine that grows on the temporary arbor I put up a few years back. I made it so that it could be quickly disassembled, because it stands under a massive dead elm tree. I wanted to be able to take it down when the tree was felled and then reassemble it in a more permanent fashion once the mess was cleaned up. Okay, you guessed it. We haven't cut the elm tree yet, and so the arbor is still "temporary". Weathered, but temporary.

The arbor, with no two parallel lines, is living proof that I didn't inherit my father's carpentry skills--but I did inherit his "can do" spirit (this is not necessarily a good combination). Needless to say, the vines didn't grow quite the way I'd planned, either. Instead of covering up the sides and top of the arbor and turning it into a leafy bower, both the trumpet vine and the Aunt Dee Wisteria on the other side developed woody stems with no leaves for their first five feet (the wisteria almost died out last winter and is very puny this year--but hanging on). The trumpet vine, instead of covering the top, insists on shooting straight up for the sky, so that I had to get a very tall ladder to prune it back. While I had the ladder out, I decided I might as well install an owl on the arbor in hopes that he might scare rabbits away. I also hope people will look at him and not the arbor. And part of me hopes the elm tree will fall onto the "temporary" arbor and crush it so that I can start over and do better next time. Do gardens make everyone delusional? Or is it the poppies?

Friday, June 26, 2009

This shade garden is one I leave alone until after the wild geraniums are done blooming in early June, because they fill the whole area with a gorgeous lavender drift of color. (I pull out their foliage after they bloom, but their sturdy roots stay in place so that they will come back next spring--like magic.) By the time I do pay it some attention, things are usually getting a little out of control--like hostas. Some need to be divided, but the ones taken from the empty space here needed to be moved because they were just too tall for the front of the border. The ones taken from this spot filled the back seat of my daughter's big, red Buick and turned it into what looked like a portable garden center. Maybe she stopped off somewhere on her way home and sold them--I don't know. What I do know is that I've been trying to get all of these basic, tall green hostas (whose name I am sorry to say I don't know) out of the front of my border for about ten years, but they just seem to keep working their way in. Now I think I may have made progress, having given so many away and having moved so many back toward the edge of the woods. I disparage them, but I also love their healthy leaves and their pretty, fresh green color. And, after all, they were here before I was. As were the wild geraniums. They all have their place. (Sometimes it is in a car...)

Thursday, June 25, 2009

How to photograph a garden? I read once that it's good to shoot from a high vantage point so as to get the scope of the whole space, and that is what I have always tried to do--up until now. Last fall, after the elections, I heard a photographer being interviewed on Minnesota Public Radio. He was discussing camera angles and how they either help or hurt candidates. When the photo is taken from below the candidate's face, he said, it makes the candidate look more authoritative and more trustworthy, according to studies. When taken straight on, it has very little effect either way. When taken from above and looking down on the candidate, it has the effect of making the candidate look less trustworthy and less capable. My candidate is this garden, and I decided to try shooting from ground level. The result: my favorite garden photo in a long time. This candidate appears to be asserting itself strongly against grass. It seems a colorful but eco-friendly kind of choice. It can be trusted to give many hours of enjoyment. Ground-level photos get my vote.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Some things we grow in the garden have leaves. Some have wings.
Some have legs. While I have been dawdling in the house because it is 90+ degrees outside, others have been busy. This spider placed its web dead center in the path/driveway that leads to the garden. When I came waltzing along with my laptop early this morning, headed for the pergola and a little quiet writing time, I nearly walked into the web. It was suspended across the 8' wide path by two almost-invisible strands, as if it were hanging from a tightrope between the shade garden on the left and the woods on the right. I suspect the spider, like me, loves the view from this particular spot. Despite my lack of favor for all things creepy and crawly, I let the web stay. Natural causes will have their way, but for today, I prefer not to be one of them.

Monday, June 22, 2009

A peony taller than a pergola? Some garden! The sight of peonies standing proud and tall before they bend and droop is breathtaking. This year's peony crop has been especially nice because we have not had the usual damaging thunderstorms that come in June. I picked some of the side buds from the peonies last week, put them in a plastic bag and stuffed them in the back of the refrigerator crisper drawer hoping that I can induce them to open in a month or two. I would have peonies every month in the year if I could--ants and all. But since I can't, I'll settle for the memory of this tall beauty gracing a perfect June day (even if the peony is not really taller than the pergola).

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Raspberries I Have Known

I finally finished cleaning up the raspberries, the job that should have been done in April. Only two months behind--not all that bad. And I learned a thing or three by being late. 1. I didn't do any irreparable damage by being late. The canes are tall (but not over my head) and berry covered. 2. I may, however, have done my body irreparable damage, because having to cut out dead canes when everything is so tangled together causes considerable scratching and sinking in of thorns. 3. I need to believe in what the canes are telling me, whether it's April or June. In other years, when I have cut the canes back just as the leaves were breaking dormancy, I didn't believe that some canes only had buds near the bottom, or half way up, while some were showing signs of leafing out all the way to the end, so I left them all about the same height, resulting in lots of half-dead canes poking out everywhere. By being late, I observed that some, indeed, only leaf out near the bottom. Some halfway up. Some all the way up (except for the very tip). There is actually an advantage to being late, which is that you can weed the patch while you're cutting the canes, something you can't do in early spring.

So, despite the fact that this job took several hours over several days, I think I have a pretty nice finished product. I was able to tuck the canes neatly between the wires, where they will stay until the first bad thunderstorm--longer if I'm lucky. These are everbearing raspberries. I've been known to call them "overbearing" raspberries (and not in the sense that they bear too much fruit--more like the co-worker who keeps reminding you how much he enjoys his yacht and Ferrari). In two or three weeks I'll be calling them sweet raspberries. Next April, I'll be calling them overbearing raspberries again, I just know it.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Tree peonies aren't really trees. They are woody shrubs that in spring display some of the most beautiful flowers ever grown in a garden. This is Kinkaku, which I planted in August of 2007. It gave me two blooms this year, each one about 7" in diameter. They lasted only a few days, but for the rest of the summer the herbaceous peony's foliage will quietly adorn a sunny spot on the south side of my house, impervious to pretty much all pests and disease--like any other tree, even though it isn't a tree.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Old Masters

They paint the garden
each June,
eschewing water lilies
for Siberian irises
that defy the sky
to match their blue,
for lace-edged peonies
that test their skills,
and soft yellow irises
they brush in across the backgrounds
like clouds.

The canvas sways
on a gentle breeze--
these flowers planted generations back
know their limits--
and the artists daub broad strokes of color.
An old garden is a palette
but never mastered.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

There is such grace in a single leaf. Such wonder in the translucence of that which has heretofore appeared opaque. Such amazement in details. Such dignity in maintaining one's composure even when life has been severely disrupted. When we least expect it, we are, like this leaf, held up to the light of others' opinions, their careful vision, their needless comparisons. Fortunately, we all carry with us the dignity of a plant newly divided, beginning each day anew, faults and all. We are larger in spirit than we know. More complex. Our glow outshines our faults. We face disruptions large and small--and go on growing. We are all single leaves. In a garden.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Portable potting bench, purveyor of perennials, saver of shoe leather--what a wonder is a truck. Much gardening ink has been spilled on the beauty of a good hoe or perfect pruning shears--but the gardening tool I love the most is my old truck. It saves me miles behind a wheel barrow and its end gate is just the right height for potting--which is how I got this bouquet in the back of my truck. As you can see, I should have divided the Frances Williams hosta and the Sugar and Cream much earlier in the season, but it was just this week that my daughter sent out a call for more plants to fill in the borders she is creating around her backyard, and so it was just this week that I grabbed the shovel and set about finding some things she might be able to use. One by one I potted not just the hostas but also astilbe and huechera, balloon flowers and daisies, lamb's ears and baptisia--and more. I secured them behind the cab for their trip to Northfield (only the hostas rode under cover). By evening, my daughter had them in the ground and by the next morning they had the rain they had been longing for. Gardening with my daughter made for a perfect June day--thanks to the truck.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Garden in a globe
lavender harbinger
bouquet on a stick
tower of flowers
burst of beauty--
deer deterrer.
Welcome to my garden,
sweet allium.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

It's not trick photography--well, maybe just a little. The hosta leaves aren't as large as the three-foot wide fountain, even though they might look that way on this photo, but they are well over a foot wide, wrinkly and wonderful. The azaleas (orange, above the fountain)--not so wonderful this year. I don't know if I failed to fertilize them at the right time, or if the poor bloom is just the result of a cold winter. I suspect that I should be thankful to have them in bloom at all, since I've seen many azaleas in distress this year, including some that have died out completely. Small bloom or large, they still light up the woods like neon. The hosta relies on its quiet strength to get attention--and tries to be in the foreground of every picture.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Bleeding Heart

Your life a song
that lilts
across the days,
a ribbon unspooling
in the breeze,
blown glass
dangling on a bending bough,
a soul
delight in all directions.

Monday, June 1, 2009

First rose of summer. This beauty appeared on one of my tree roses last Tuesday morning (May 26), the earliest I can ever recall having a rose, any rose, bloom here in my garden. I wintered the tree roses, in pots, in my garage, worrying every time I went past them that they would not make it. The garage is unheated, except that it is attached to the house and partially in-ground, so does not suffer the temperature extremes that a winter outdoors would bring. The roses held their green leaves until Christmas, making me wonder if I should water them or what--but I opted for leaving them alone so that they could go dormant. In January the leaves began to crisp and by March I hit the doldrums of worry that I had managed to kill off these three new beauties. On the first warm days in April I set them outside for a few hours each day and almost immediately buds began to show. They have made steady progress ever since, although two of them suffered dieback on one side. In early May I repotted them and gave them a little fertilizer. In mid-May I gave them a bigger boost of fertilizer. Last week I added some well-rotted "barn dirt" aka "composted manure" from my neighbor, who grows the most amazing tree roses I have ever seen and who swears by the barn dirt recipe. Hers, planted in the ground, will grow bigger and flower more, but one of mine flowered first and has already offered enough delight to last me the whole summer. Thank you, neighbor. Thank you, rose.

First Rose of Summer

Ruffled ball gown,
layer upon pink layer,
dances in the breeze,
perfume waltzing.
Lover kisses her neck,
lighting her soul,
the opaque
is now translucent.
Skirt swirls wider,
crinolines rollercoastering.
She rests in the gleam of his smile
like tea in the finest cup,
secure in his warm embrace
as the music slows
and fades.
Wallflowers watch,
until the dance is done,
then take their place
in the sun
and do not dance

Friday, May 29, 2009

My sister has done it again--she's given me this wonderful Drinking Gourd Hosta, a plant I've wanted for a long time. I am not a hosta collector, you understand. I don't aspire to having one of every kind, but the Drinking Gourd appeals to me because the name so perfectly describes the cup of the leaf: a perfect name for a beautiful plant. Besides, I believe it is one hosta whose name--at least its common name--I'll be able to remember. As luck would have it, just hours after I planted this lovely hosta a deer was seen lurking only a dozen feet away. Time for the Liquid Fence. And a thank you note to my sister.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Last spring when I moved this decrepit little arbor back to this spot (it's a long story--first it was here, then I moved it because the area was too shady, then after a few years I moved it back...) I planned to make a path wend its way beneath the clematis I envisioned twining itself on the wires overhead. I moved the arbor in the very early spring, wanting to get it in place so that I could move the clematis while it was still dormant. Three weeks later, before I could get limestone in place for the path, this patch of wild phlox asserted itself--right smack dab in the place where I intended the path to be. So much for planning: I couldn't have planned anything lovelier than these phlox if I'd tried. Once again this year, I wonder about making room for a path, but once again I'm stunned by this singular island of lavender and am unwilling to tamper with it, at least until its bloom is past. Better yet, I think I'll move the arbor--again.

Friday, May 22, 2009

And the day came when the risk [it took] to remain tight in the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.
--Anais Nin.

We all come of age, at every age, when risk confronts us. Flowers enact the drama before our eyes as their buds burst at spring's call. Packed in and secure, the petals increasingly resist repression. Finally, they break free and exult in lives that last a few days, or maybe just a few hours. Life is finite for a flower--and aren't we all flowers? Our petals our skin? Our souls our seed?